‘Organic is Best?’ Please…

In Health and Safety, Organic by Paul Martin6 Comments

I have long had a theory about the current “organic” food craze that seems to be sweeping the nation and hitting nearly every shelf of the grocery store lately. This theory is that food companies now have an excuse to repackage the same thing, slap the word “Organic” on it, and charge a premium for it. In the end, we all believe that we’re eating better food, when in reality, it’s what they have always been making, but now we have a placebo in the word “organic” that makes us feel safe.

This has the potential for more harm than good. There are companies out there, and a lot of them, that have always produced “organic” food, but did not have to label the package as such. Now they have a new option. They can conform to the “organic” label, and mark their “organic” food line up, to match the higher costs of everything else. But that’s not all, they can take the liberty to create lesser grade foods than they had in the past, and put the old label on it.

Now, they’re making more money on the organic label that adorns the same food that they’ve put on the shelf for years, having changed nothing about the formula itself. They are also able to produce ‘non-organic’ variations with cheaper ingredients. While it might cost some capital to develop the non-organic versions, they would quickly be able to make up for the money loss in what they’re saving every day by purchasing ingredients at lower-costs.

The “Organic” label is a double-edged sword, at best.

Granted, this is all worst-case-scenario, but there is new research in the Society of Chemical Industry’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that shows there is no evidence to support the argument that organic food is better than food grown with the use of pesticides and chemicals.

Many people pay more than a third more for organic food in the belief that it has more nutritional content than food grown with pesticides and chemicals.

But the research by Dr Susanne Bügel and colleagues from the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Copenhagen, shows there is no clear evidence to back this up.

In the first study ever to look at retention of minerals and trace elements, animals were fed a diet consisting of crops grown using three different cultivation methods in two seasons.

The study looked at the following crops – carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes – staple ingredients that can be found in most families’ shopping list.

The first cultivation method consisted of growing the vegetables on soil which had a low input of nutrients using animal manure and no pesticides except for one organically approved product on kale only.

The second method involved applying a low input of nutrients using animal manure, combined with use of pesticides, as much as allowed by regulation.

Finally, the third method comprised a combination of a high input of nutrients through mineral fertilizers and pesticides as legally allowed.

The crops were grown on the same or similar soil on adjacent fields at the same time and so experienced the same weather conditions. All were harvested and treated at the same time. In the case of the organically grown vegetables, all were grown on established organic soil.

After harvest, results showed that there were no differences in the levels of major and trace contents in the fruit and vegetables grown using the three different methods.

Produce from the organically and conventionally grown crops were then fed to animals over a two year period and intake and excretion of various minerals and trace elements were measured. Once again, the results showed there was no difference in retention of the elements regardless of how the crops were grown.

Dr Bügel says: ‘No systematic differences between cultivation systems representing organic and conventional production methods were found across the five crops so the study does not support the belief that organically grown foodstuffs generally contain more major and trace elements than conventionally grown foodstuffs.’

Dr Alan Baylis, honorary secretary of SCI’s Bioresources Group, adds: ‘Modern crop protection chemicals to control weeds, pests and diseases are extensively tested and stringently regulated, and once in the soil, mineral nutrients from natural or artificial fertilizers are chemically identical. Organic crops are often lower yielding and eating them is a lifestyle choice for those who can afford it.’


This research was supported by the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), Denmark.

For more information or a full copy of the article, contact: Meral Nugent, Press and Public Relations Manager, T: +44 (0)20 7598 1533, F: +44 (0) 20 7598 1545, Mob: 07931 315077 E: meral.nugent@soci.org

What do you think?

Paul Martin

Paul Martin

I am the Director of Multimedia at ProTrainings, as well as the primary blogger here. I take care of the video editing, graphic design and corporate branding that you see on every video and every page on this site, as well as at ProCPR®, ProFirstAid®, ProBloodborne, StudentCPR, etc. My work is literally everywhere that ProTrainings goes. I also handle our Twitter accounts, so be sure to follow us there, if you use twitter! You can be sure that I’m not just an average joe writing this blog, but one of the founders of the company.

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  1. Rob Antecki

    I both agree and disagree with what you posted, as someone involved in the medical research field (not to throw this around at all, but just to point out that I work in a related field every day and work with some of these same chemicals, so I have some background in the issue, its not just my personal opinion).

    Number one, you are absolutely right about the labelling problem with organic foods. Many people are duped into thinking they are buying something “organic” when it is more or less produced the same way as conventional crops. That is an economics/business problem that should be addressed, and I believe the USDA is setting up certain standards for the production and labelling of organic foods.

    Number two, I automatically discount almost all mainstream news research stories unless I read the actual peer reviewed journal article itself. Scientific research and results are not black and white, and it is difficult even for those who deal with it on a daily basis to interpret results, let alone journalists.

    That being said, I had no idea the issue ever was whether or not organically grown foods are more NUTRITIOUS than standard fare. I would assume almost the opposite: food grown without the use of growth factors and pesticides is usually smaller, keeps less, and has a lower crop yield in general, and this is just natural.

    For me, I was always under the impression that the issue was to avoid chemicals that can potentially cause cancer, birth defects, etc. This is why I would favor – authentic – organic foods. This is not addressed in the article.

    Whether or not the FDA or USDA approves certain chemicals for use is becoming less and less relevant to me. Honestly, we all know the agencies are all but run by private corporations and lobbyists and every single day we hear about people dying and massive recalls of drugs the FDA had approved (Vioxx anyone?).

    I think it is hard to accept that there is no detrimental effect from the massive amounts of chemicals we are exposed to every day in food, water, etc. Being an investigator, I will withhold judgment until definitive results are in, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming: the massive increase in cancer since the industrial revolution (at this point it is inevitable in the future we will all get it….each and every one of us…we need to stop and realize this), antibiotic resistance linked to the use of antibiotics in animal feed to enhance their growth, massive birth defects in frog populations near factories, etc.

    Some of the chemicals used in pesticides, etc. are truly bad….its scary what they do in the lab and what they do over time. The thought of putting this into my body scares me. But it scares me more than there is less outrage at what is going on, and right now its just a matter of time before we reap the consequences.

  2. Mary C.

    I agree with you on the whole “organic” labeling problem. There are a lot of people who will spend a few extra dollars simply because a product is said to be organic, without actually looking at the ingredient and nutritional information. That’s ridiculous.

    Personally, there are some things that I do buy organic of. However, I ALWAYS check the nutritional information of nearly everything I buy so that I can avoid buying overly-processed, super sugary foods and such. I’ve found that for quite a few items, the organic versions are better in quality and taste, and the Meijer organic brand is usually less expensive than a name-brand, non-organic version of the same product.

    As far as the pesticide issue is concerned, I would much rather eat something that has been exposed to as little pesticides as possible. Even if the nutritional content isn’t altered, the idea of eating foods exposed to chemicals scares me more than a little. It might not effect me now, but as Rob said, cancer is pretty much inevitable for most of us…and I can’t believe that regularly eating foods raised in chemicals isn’t going to affect me at least somewhat detrimentally during my lifetime.

  3. Angie

    Everyone I know interested in organic food is not measuring mineral content in a lab on research animals, but is doing so to avoid the myriad pesticides and other poisonous chemicals in the crops, in the belief that our outrageous and atrocious modern disease levels stem partly from that factor .

  4. Chrissy

    I heartily agree with Rob and Mary. The intake of harmful chemicals is the issue here, not the nutritional value of the foods. The threat of cancer is a serious thing. Limiting our exposure to carcinogens should be a priority. However, sometimes it is like trying to hold back a tsunami with a teaspoon. There are studies now as to whether the transmissions from cell phones cause cancer. There are constantly all sorts of waves from cell phones, tvs, radios, etc passing through our body. I find it hard to believe that this, as well as all the many chemicals we consume in our foods and on other products are not detrimental to our health. How much of our health are we willing to sacrifice for convenience sake?

  5. Natalie Wernette

    This issue hits home to me (literally) being on the farming end, and so I can’t avoid adding my cent and ½ of opinion in the field. The crops grown here are about ½ “organic” and ½ “unqualified organic” depending on your organic certification. We highly considered becoming an “organic farm” due to the serge in consumer spending on such.

    Know that I use the organic term loosely because there are MANY different types of certifications and standards. Here is where I believe the problem is. For consumers, the term “organic” is interchangeable for any product or produce. WRONG. Many businesses understand this and will pay for any “organic” standard to have the word slapped on the package. Consumers have to look at who issues the standards and what the standards mean. For instance, does that mean they just don’t use pesticides? Or certain levels of pesticides? Or does it only have to do with natural fertilizer? How hard is their regulation? Each issuer of “organic certification” has his/her own set of standards. And yes, for some of these issuers, the standards are not far from traditional methods. This is one of the largest problems with using the term “organic.”

    I should add a touch of legal background here as well. ********Even if you abide by organic standards, you CAN NOT lawfully mark your produce as organic without certification. This is important to understand (and so I put stars before it). You can use terms as “local produce” or “naturally grown,” but the o-word must be omitted. Sure there are loopholes and people that do it anyway, but they have a lot to lose if they are caught. The reverse holds true as well: a lot of produce you buy may be organic, but not labeled as such. Why don’t all farms that abide by organic standards become organically certified? Cost. Organic standards involve regulators that are becoming even more stringent and costly. And I’d like to reaffirm that truly organic methods really do produce much lower yields and have much higher planting, growing, and harvesting costs. This is why consumers pay so much more for it and why the little farms can’t compete.

    (Small note) Many serious organic standards won’t allow a field of organic produce to be near a non-organic one due to runoff and possible contamination. That adds problems for surrounding farmers who may need to be paid off.

    Lastly (although I could go on for days), organic encompasses a lot of different issues including fertilizers, pesticides, growing methods, etc.

    -It can be effectively argued that “organic” foods are worse for you than “non-organic” (again, depending on the certification). Ever heard of Escherichia coli (e coli)? It is bacteria that is easily spread when using “natural fertilizers,” which is a soft-term usually meaning chicken crap. Dive into the research on fertilizers and you’ll see even stronger arguments for using artificial fertilizer instead of (or in combination with) natural fertilizer.

    -Why can’t research prove that crop pesticides damage a person’s heath? Huh. Did you know that Californian sweet corn growers have to spray their crop EVERY DAY with pesticides to avoid worms? Scary! (Under few standards they can pay to be “organic,” but under most they are not.) Would you buy it if you knew this? Do you think you are going to find pesticides/herbicides on the label? Would you buy it if they sprayed only once and had the organic label? Would you buy it if they didn’t spray it at all but it had a worm in it and labeled organic? Would you buy it if it wasn’t sprayed at all, but didn’t have the label? How would you know?

    My personal advice: I know all the chemicals sprayed on Lays potato chips and wouldn’t recommend eating them while pregnant.
    I’d choose “non-organic” tomato sauce over organic.
    Local early sweet corn is the best because it has less chance of worms and often not sprayed.
    Amish don’t use electricity, it doesn’t mean they don’t use pesticides.

    Which is more harmful: Organic or not organic? Chuck Norris.

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